Common Questions About Genetic Counseling and Testing

Questions and Answers about Genetic Counseling and Testing

Your doctor has recommended genetic counseling, because there are some signs in your family that you could have an inherited risk factor for cancer. It is important to learn about this, because it could help with your cancer treatment. It could also help you and your family with preventing future cancers or catching cancer early.

What is genetic counseling?

A genetic counselor has a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling and has passed a national board exam and state certification in the field of genetics. The genetic counselor will do a detailed evaluation of your family history and any available family medical records. The genetic counselor will provide you with information about hereditary cancer and how it applies to your family. If you have genetic testing, the counselor will also meet with you to interpret the test results.

What is genetic testing?

As part of genetic counseling, the genetic counselor might offer genetic testing to you. Genetic testing is done on a blood or saliva test to get more information about risk factors for cancer. When it is possible, it is the most helpful for family members who have had cancer already to be the first people in the family to get genetic testing.

After genetic counseling, some people learn that genetic testing is not likely to be helpful for their family or they choose to not have genetic testing at this time. These people can still benefit from learning about cancer risk and get personalized screening and prevention guidelines based on the family history.

What are my options if I learn that I have an increased chance of cancer?

There are a variety of options available to people who have an increased chance of cancer based on their family history or genetic testing results. These include increased surveillance, chemoprevention (medications which reduce the chance of cancer), and risk-reducing surgery. A genetic counselor can help you decide which options are the best fit for you, considering both medical and personal factors.

I’ve already had cancer. What could I learn from genetic counseling?

People who already had cancer may learn about more treatment options for their cancer as well as steps they can take to detect or reduce the chance of other cancers. For example, a hereditary predisposition to breast cancer can be associated with an increased chance of ovarian cancer. Genetic counseling will also provide information about whether family members have an increased chance of developing cancer. They can take steps to detect cancer early or prevent it.

What about insurance discrimination and confidentiality?

There are federal laws and state laws that prohibit health insurers from using genetic testing results to discriminate against individuals. This means that a health insurer cannot raise your rates, drop your coverage, or deny you coverage based on the results of genetic testing.

For more information, please contact the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program at 415-885- 7779